Young Canadian musicians win loan of rare instruments

More than a dozen young Canadian musicians are celebrating in Toronto after winning the loan of valuable instruments as part of the Canada Council's Musical Instrument Bank.
The 2009 winners of the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank competition pose with their instruments in the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto on Thursday. ((Jessica Wong/CBC))
More than a dozen young Canadian musicians are celebrating in Toronto after winning the loan of valuable instruments as part of the Canada Council's Musical Instrument Bank.

Held every three years, the competition lends the winning young musicians one of 14 string instruments, including violins, cellos or cello bows — some dating back to the 17th century and crafted by celebrated luthiers including Stradivari, Guarneri, Tononi and Gagliano.

Winners of the 2009 Canada Council of the Arts Musical Instrument Bank
1689 Baumgartner Stradivari violin (valued at $4.3 million) Edmonton-born, New York-based violinist Judy Kang.
1696 Bonjour Stradivari cello (valued at $8 million) Edmonton-born, Toronto-based cellist Rachel Mercer.
1700 Bell Giovanni Tononi violin (valued at $188,000) Baltimore-based, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Qc. violinist Marie-Ève Poupart. 
1700 Taft Stradivari violin (valued at $4.3 million) Calgary-based, Jonquière, Que. violinist Renée-Paule Gauthier.
1715 Dominicus Montagnana violin (valued at $858,000) Montreal-born, Bloomington, Ind.-based violinist Véronique Mathieu.
1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivari violin (valued at $4.3 million) Montreal violinist Caroline Chéhadé.
1729 Guarneri del Gesù violin (valued at $4.3 million) Victoria-born, Philadelphia-based violinist Nikki Chooi. 
1747 Palmason Januarius Gagliano violin (valued at $322,000) Munich-based, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Qc. violinist Andréa Tyniec. 
1767 Joannes Baptista Guadagnini violin (valued at $536,000) Seoul-born, Montreal-based violinist Min-Jeong Koh.
1820 Joannes Franciscus Pressenda violin  (valued at $375,000) Saskatoon-born, Brandon, Man.-based Kerry DuWors.
1824 McConnell Nicolaus Gagliano cello (valued at $375,000) Montreal cellist Chloé Dominguez.
1830 Shaw Adam cello bow (valued at $43,000) Roberval, Que.-born, Toronto-based cellist Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron.
1869 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin with its Vuillaume model bow (valued at $172,000) Edmonton-born, Ottawa-based violinist Jessica Linnebach.
1902 Enrico Rocca violin (valued at $214,000) Houston-based, Sainte-Foy, Que.-raised violinist Jing Wang.

"As a young person sort of in the beginning stages of my career, it's like a launch — it's like a boost into the big leagues, it's like going from triple-A to your big, multimillion-dollar contract," Brandon, Man.-based Kerry DuWors told CBC News on Thursday.

The young violinist chose the 1820 Joannes Franciscus Pressenda violin for her third consecutive loan from the Musical Instrument Bank, which was established in 1985.

Being chosen by the council's judging panel "gives you recognition on a surface level, but also on the inside," said DuWors, who was born in Saskatoon. "People respect what you do and they’ve given you this gift, and that means that they recognize you as someone with potential to go far."

With a total value exceeding $28 million, the instruments come from loans or from donations to the Canada Council. Seven of the 14 pieces are on loan to the council from an anonymous U.S. benefactor.

Out of the many parties this year's winners thanked — including the Canada Council and luthier and restorer Ric Heinl and his team — it's important to acknowledge the philanthropists who have made these pricey instruments available to young musicians still in development, according to Edmonton-born, Toronto-based cellist Rachel Mercer.

"They are really old works of art and they’re beautiful, but they were made as instruments and they are meant to be played," said Mercer, who won use of the Bank's priciest piece: the 1696 Bonjour Stradivari cello, valued at $8 million.

"I know there are collections where these instruments don't get played and I think they probably suffer. Because when they are played, they open up …They're so beautiful not only to look at but to hear."

Instrument sparks artistic growth

The relationship that the winners eventually develop with their instruments during the loan period is invaluable for development as an artist, added Mercer, who chose the Strad cello after playing the Bank's 1824 McConnell Nicolaus Gagliano cello for the past three years.

"You are partly shaped by the instrument that you're playing on. And because these instruments are so great — to be shaped by something of that quality — it just brings the level up," she said.

With intimate, daily access to an instrument of such rare quality, the winners have a chance to excel since "you bring out the best in each other," DeWors added.

"It's sort of like wearing-in a pair of shoes — getting it comfortable — or that old pair of jeans that you just want to throw on at the end of the day. It has that comfort.

"But also there's that trust level," said DeWors. "You know that it's going to deliver for you. It will be its best if you’re at your best, too."  

The winners included, from left, Kerry DuWors, Judy Kang and Min-Jeong Koh. ((Jessica Wong/CBC))
After nearly a week of auditions, interviews and Wednesday night's nail-biting selection process (the winners chose in order of their placement in the competition), the young artists will perform a free concert at Toronto's Glenn Gould Studio Thursday night before taking their new companions home.

The concert will be recorded for broadcast next month on CBC Radio 2 and Radio-Canada's Espace musique, while a documentary about the 2009 competition will air on specialty arts channel Bravo at a later date.